Why We Need To Talk About Fast Food

October 11, 2012   48 Comments

Snack Girl is obsessed with McDonald’s. I just can’t stop thinking about this corporation or fast food. Why?

McDonalds Kale

At least one quarter of American adults eat fast food every day. One out of every eight adults has worked at a fast food restaurant at one time in their lives.

On Sunday, I found myself in a lecture hall with none other than Cynthia Goody, PhD, MBA, RD, LD, Senior Director of Nutrition for McDonald’s. I was attending the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Philadelphia to learn about the latest in nutrition research.

Cynthia informed the audience that 25 million people each day eat at McDonald’s. Clearly my obsession is warranted. Every 14 days, McDonald’s could have fed EVERYONE in the United States one meal. Wow.

The title of her presentation was “How McDonald’s Is Improving Nutrition” and I must say I was excited. Here we have a company that could change what Americans eat in a positive way.

She talked about the oatmeal and the fact that they had added blueberries to it in the summer. Seems that McDonald’s didn’t want to add them all year because then the blueberries wouldn’t be from a local source. By local, McDonald’s means they source the blueberries from the United States and not from South America. I don’t think Cynthia has been reading up on the “Farm to Fork” movement.

Of course, I was disappointed by the initiatives she described because I kept hoping she would mention that McDonald’s was going to serve more vegetables. When it came to the “Question and Answer” section of the talk, I found myself looking at the microphone and wondering if anyone was going to ask a question.

There wasn’t anyone lined up so I (without thinking) decided to jump up and challenge Cynthia.

I asked, “Has McDonald’s ever thought about putting kale on the menu?”

At that point, I thought she was going to call some uniformed people to put me in a rubber room. She informed me that she loved kale chips and they had checked into jicama and snow peas. She answered me with a big smile on her face.

I felt like a complete idiot. What was I doing trying to convince McDonald’s to serve kale? Am I truly out of my mind?

But then something cool happened. This tweet was sent out during the session:

@dgrreen: @Snack_Girl_ wants @mcdonalds to sell kale. A Big Mac with a side of leafy green chips? I like it. #FNCE @eatrightFNCE

@dgrreen was in the room and actually liked my question! Hey, he even knew who I was and was following my Twitter feed.

Then, I had this crazy idea. If enough of us Tweeted, Facebooked, Suggested, Complained, and just COMMENTED - maybe we would see a kale smoothie someday at McDonald’s.

or kale chips or a massaged kale Caesar salad (doesn't that sound yummy?).

Then, all the kale growers in the U.S.A. would have huge contracts supplying McDonald's with tons of kale. Hurray!

Okay, I know I'm dreaming, but you have to start somewhere, right? For now, you can go to McD's for your Big Mac and eat it at home with your side of kale chips.

What do you think of the state of fast food in this country? Do you think it could change?

Here is my protest tweet:

@McDonalds We deserve KALE today. Please serve more vegetables.

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Super Post! I will tweet away about the need for kale at McDos.

I don't know if I could go for Kale Chips at McDonalds, but it's healthy!!! I'm on board!!

I don't believe fast food is going away any tme soon. I do believe changes can gradually occur step by step if enough people get behind them. A small change I'd like to see is replacing all of their white bread products with high fiber "light" bread. If you wanted to be more bold, you could give a piece of fresh fruit instead of fries in the value meals and make fries an add on.

Thank you for asking the question! Pretty sure my tot would not want to be in the same zip code with a Kale chip, but, if they gave her a pack of grapes or mandarin oranges I'm sure she'd ditch the fries. Or at least not protest so hard when I lie to her that they were out. She won't touch the apples, they taste very chemically...

Sorry to be so cynical, but I have been around a lot longer than Snackgirl resulting in a better grasp of reality. The scenario: McDonald's begins serving Kale chips; the preparation method results in a serving of 350 calories; they are a big hit; kale demand spikes; Monsanto finds a gene in an earthworm that shortens the kale plant's time to maturity by 15 days, patents it, and through legal maneuverings related to its patent protection of the earthworm's gene, vertically integrates the kale production system. In short,the food industry takes a healthy food and converts it into high calorie frankenfood. Good article though; entertaining and well-written.

McDonald's has made some attempt to improve their menu. On the rare occasions I treat my kids to it, they like the apple slices, the 100% fruit juice and they don't even mind the smaller french fry size. However, they still have a long way to go. I would LOVE if they began using multigrain or whole wheat buns and wraps instead of the dreadful white stuff. There grilled chicken wraps are great, but not so healthy with a white wrap. I definitely think ALL fast food chains need to make some serious overhauls, but then again, people continue to eat there regardless so maybe it is not that important for them to do.

I admire your enthusiasm and would have found it fun to watch the exchange :) Kale would fail at McDs though. They make some small concessions to try and serve healthy choices I guess but the issue is the customer. Folks going to McDs aren't going for a health meal, nor would they likely shell out the $ for a serving of kale. Hate to sound so cynical but I don't thn the issue is the corporation - they serve what their customers want.

My kids prefer butternut squash fries over kale chips, but I'd love that kind of change!!!

Even if they gave you a choice of either the white roll or a whole grain roll that would make me at least thinking twice about stopping and getting a grilled chicken on whole wheat roll instead of driving right by and going to Subway where I can at least add what I want on a sandwich.

I would love to be able to drive up to a window at McDonald's or anywhere and order healthy choices. I wish subway would at least put up a window. If I could get a grilled chicken wrap with kale at McDonald's or chicken noodle kale soup, or salad with kale I would love it. How about spinach too add that in a smoothie you can't even tell. I try to steer clear of fast food places cause I hate putting nuggets in my kids bellies it's convient and I make them get milk and apples(skip the extra fries they now add) but I feel very guilty when they eat that stuff and I should.

I would love to see kale chips at Micky D's but would really love to see them add less sugar to their food items. My elderly mom has started eating at McDonald's recently and she has gained weight she can't explain. I think it is the oatmeal that she believes is healthy--but as I learned on Snack Girl is full of unnecessary sugar. It's all about economics, so if we could convince the McDonald Corp. that their customers would live longer, therefore be alive to continue to spend and dine there--just maybe they'd consider reducing sugar quantities.

What should our tweet to McDonald's be?!

I would love kale chips at McD's! However, I have to agree with Martin's post about them turning a healthy snack into junk (that would end up doing weird things to our bodies). Great idea though!

I think adding kale chips to the menu is good in theory, but in practice I'm not sure it would last long. Personally,I would try them out if they were served as an alternative to french fries,but then again, I don't go to fast food places a lot.Making chips,whether it be kale or potato would be a different approach than if you got them at a fast food restaurant or any other restaurant. For one thing a place like McDonalds,even if using fresh kale,would more than likely deep fry them similar to their fries. Fresh kale would probably go bad quickly unless they were processed and filled with preservatives. However,if they had a high quality supplier that produced pre-packaged pre-prepared bagged kale chips (meaning no preservatives or fried in excessive amounts of unhealthy oil.)then it could be deemed as a healthier choice. But in order to get the healthier kale chips,it would probably be expensive and when people go for fast food they don't want to spend a lot of money.

Interesting article. I love that you stood up and asked a question! I don’t believe fast food will ever really change though. I just don’t eat there, period, never. No special trips to McD. The food is so gross. Even the apple slices taste weird. If the kids want a special treat I will take them for ice cream but we never, ever eat fast food. My hope is if more people will say no to fast food, they will be forced to change.

25 million people a DAY. Now that is sad. No wonder there are so many overweight people. Even if they would add a spinach salad with mandarin oranges with plain old balsamic vinegar would be a healthy option. Stop coming up with new unhealthy options.

Of course kale at McDonald's is a good idea! And I applaud you, Snack-Girl, for being brave and asking, and also for caring about healthy eating.

Here's the problem. Say McDonald's does serve kale - in the form of a smoothie. They make that smoothie with low-fat yogurt (whole milk yogurt is best, as it is healthy fats and fat does NOT contribute to fat). They add high fructose corn syrup, because the smoothie needs to be sweeter! They add carageenen, to thicken it (a carcinogen), plus about 40 other ingredients as is their norm that just aren't needed and aren't healthy. So suddenly that kale isn't so healthy anymore. McDonald's needs to do more than ADD healthy items. They need to take OUT some of the crap.

Just tweeted this for fun:

@McDonalds We deserve KALE today. Please serve more vegetables.

Cool, Lisa! That made the Cheers theme start running through my head "Where everybody knows your name" :)

I'm happy to say that we almost never eat fast food. The only realy excptions are when we are traveling (usually Wendy's since they have baked potatoes, etc.) or the occasional Sonic trip as a treat. If there was actually something healthy at fast food restaurants, I might go on occasion!

I think fast food is here to stay. The people that go to those places aren't looking to eat healthy. If they get a salad, more often than not, they are drowning it in a high calorie dressing. December of 2011 was the last time I CHOSE to ate at McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, Arby's or Wendy's. As a single girl, it was convenient to swing through the drive thru for dinner 5 or more nights a week. Now I visit Subway about once a week and it's usually on the night I do 2 Zumba classes. Snack Girl, I truly admire your efforts, but until the people in this country wake up and realize the garbage they're putting into their bodies, things aren't going to change. I tell people about your blog. Hopefully we'll educate enough people that these places feel the financial impact of our decisions and make a change. Until then, it's wishful thinking. Good for you for having the courage to ask that question, though!

Lots of comments... you've hit a nerve! The stats are overwhelming. We have really tried to cut out McDonald's & BK - might be once/month. But, I do frequent Dunkin Donuts - still, I like that they have an lighter menu and it is marked. Also, Subway, Panerra all have some indication of calorie count or light options - give people a choice & some healthy options. (to McDonald's credit, the last salad I had there wasn't bad.)

Good for you for making a stand! If more people do that, they will be forced to make a change.

By the time Mcd. presents kale chips we will be eating a new chemical sensation!!

Hey Snack Girl,

I am going to Facebook right now and tell Micky D's about serving Kale.

I met a dietician that very occasionally let her children eat one item each from a fast food restaurant. On the way there in the car they routinely filled up on mixed frozen veggies eaten right from the bag (still frozen)!

Truth is American's get what they want and until we decide to honor our bodies with exercise and healthy food but instead assuage hunger with a quick fix of junk the marketplace is going to fulfill that.

I'd like to see healthy choices that are cost comparable to the unhealthy ones. If you have $3 you're going to buy off the dollar menu, not a salad.

Putting something like kale chips on the dollar menu would at least let people know there are other choices available. You have to start somewhere to get in touch with the public at large.

This is AMAZING! You go girl!!!

Snack girl, I enjoy your blog and how you get people to think differently about food that's marketed to us as healthy!

That being said, I'm saddened that we're even having a McDonald's discussion. I've studied nutrition in College and the effects of food on the body, and have learned there is nothing redeeming about McDonald's as a place to eat, and especially about them as a corporation and how they structure their food supply to their "restaurants" . A wolf in sheeps clothing is still a wolf, and McDonald's selling a kale product will be marketed as healthy, but I'm willing to bet, if you get to sit down and eyeball the nutrition facts, it will end up being fodder for another post about how its a food that looks healthy, but isn't. Have you seen the documentary "Fat, sick, and Nearly Dead"? Or "Forks over Knives"? I think they sums up some good talking points about why we shouldn't touch McDonalds with a ten foot pole.

I've actually lost my taste for McDonalds, but if In-n-Out served kale chips, I'd still order french fries.

Eating fast food everyday? Not so good, but once in a while .. sure, it's fine. AND - I want my french fries!

Love the idea, but to produce that much kale, they'd probably pay to generate a GMO type like the rest of their foods and we'd go on to perpetuate our problems with food allergies, gut issues, ADHD, autism.... etc, etc, which I believe is very much related to how our foods are grown, produced and processed.

Martin, I thought the very same thing!

Great post though--sounds like an interesting event!

Such good points, Snack Girl. McDonald's holds so much power to influence the way we eat, the way food is produced, etc. I'd love to see them downsize their portions, choose more sustainably raised beef, chicken, eggs, and yes, a little kale on the side would be terrific! Maybe if everyone just sent out one tweet about one positive change at McDonalds....that would be a start.

I'm glad you challenged the McDonald's nutritionist. Until people choose to eat elsewhere, choose to eat good nutritional food instead of food that satisfies their tastebudes, any change McDonald's makes is for positive press attention.

When McD's has tried some healthier options in the past, they have flopped. Their business comes from people who like the taste of their fat-laden food (and the cheapness of the value menu!)and do not care about nutrition. So if they added too many healthy options, they would likely lose money/business! I guess you can't blame McD's as they are in it for the money and try to keep their shareholders happy with their profits. They are not in it to improve the health of the public.

I am in LOVE this post! I'm a huge fan of kale chips- and kale in general. However, it seems like adding any vegetable (let alone kale) on the menu at McDonald's is a little absurd (for lack of a better word...) people go to McDonald's for fast food. Hamburgers, soda, fries, etc.. The reason fast food corporations haven't adapted extremely healthy choices (aside from salads, milk, and apple "fries") is because it'll never work. They want to make money, not change the way Americans eat. And lets face it, the poor choices of some people shouldn't affect everyone else who are healthy and make efforts with diet and excersize to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In 5 years from now, who would want to go to McDonald's craving a small fry and a burger because the worked hard all week and could afford to savor a few extra calories in their diet, and instead see kale chips as a side, and possibly have to pay extra for fries? The change doesn't come from McDonald's, the education system, or the government. Healthy changes come from doctors and individuals. Personally I'd love to see kale among the list of sides OTHER than fries (since I'm a big fan) but I don't think it would ever work. What I believe fast food corporations SHOULD do is change the ways they cook their products and find a healthier substitution for the fat they fry their fries in, and not adding any preservatives.... Like we saw in your post about the way their hamburgers look over time.. Gross, and definitely NOT healthy!

McDonald's would find a way to make kale unhealthy. Nice try though!

who are we kidding here? McDonalds isnt even real food. Its just addictive crap that does nothing to nourish the body.. the true intention of food. Im so sick of people sugar coating this topic. its crap. Its bad for you. Stop eating it and stop feeding this crap to your kids. make them a fricken sandwich. really!!!!

I think McDonalds is trying to add healthy choices like salads, sliced apples, etc., but to me they taste so funky I can't eat them. I do 'treat' my kids occasionally to the big D but it is NOT inexpensive. Every time I take them there I end up thinking I could have made an awesome dinner with those $25. I hate to say it's even a treat but with the toy and the chi-ken (because it's not real right?) nuggets, my boys are always happy to have gone there.

I love how passionate you are about this! It is pretty disturbing that so many people eat at McDonalds, and they really have not done much to improve their menu nutrition-wise... hopefully we will see kale on there someday!! haha

Consumers have a choice. It's a case of supply and demand. What the country needs is a "fast food healthy food chain"... but maybe that is what a grocery store is. We should have drive-up grocery stores. What's faster and healthier than a piece of fresh fruit?

What we have is a behavioral issue.

Most of the people who read food blogs like this rarely or never go to fast food restaurants. Most of the people who eat regularly at fast food places aren't too interested in nutrition; they want food that is 1)affordable and 2)fast. So as others have pointed out, McDonald's has no incentive to change.

If McDonald's made an effort to offer kale chips or a green smoothie, would we be willing to make a point of stopping there once a week and purchasing that product? Probably not, particularly if we discover all the additives that they are likely to put in.

The big question is whether or not it's possible for them to offer healthy food that would fit into their model of 1)fast and 2)cheap. The salads are getting better. As a vegetarian, fast food salads (minus the usual chicken) are my only choice if I'm away from home and need something quick. The salads I've ordered lately are more than iceberg lettuce, and sometimes offer nuts and cheese (though you have to be careful with the amounts) for protein. Sure, it's not ideal, but it's *something.* So I wonder if McDonald's nutritionist has explored the viability of fruit minus the preservatives, or oatmeal minus the sugar, and what her findings were? This is the question I want to ask.

A PR program for a Healthy Meal for kids, where kids get to put a sticker on the wall chart in the restaurant after eating a hummus and vegetable-type meal with milk to drink, couldn't hurt either.

I'm so bummed! I was at FNCE and had I been a tweeter probably would of stalked you. So perhaps you are lucky. He he. Also bummed I missed that particular session. So much to pick from. I would love to see kale chips in the happy meal.

I have recently started cooking at home a lot more then I used to, my husband has noticed a difference in the way he feels after a meal at home. Something needs to be done. It seems like we have evolved to the easy way out and settled for fast food. That is our biggest problem. Ask the guy who made the documentary "Supersize Me." I think that we are so acclimated to what has been served to us for so long that people are afraid of change. Small steps are great but someone needs to campaign it make it real not just TV but an in your face kind of way or obesity is going to get higher and higher every day. BTW I know this because I am obese. I am watching my kids become like me and I don't want that I need help. That is part of the reason I follow you.

I've never eaten any burger at Mc Donalds! now for 3 years I've been vegetarian, but even before I was never atracted by this chain, sorry but fast foods are just not for me!;)

Kale is awesome!!! However, if there ever was a contract with McDs to provide kale for their many better bet that kale would be sprayed with pesticides to keep up with production. The quality of products needed in mass quantities is so often diluted. So tricky!!! Your heart is in the right place though!! Keep up your great work! :)

Unfortunately when restaurant's offer these types of alternatives, people often don't buy them. I have even read that putting a picture of a healthy food choice in a menu will make a person feel better about eating there but they are still quite unlikely to make the healthier choice.

In order for something to be viable, it has to sell enough for McDonald's to keep it in stock.

I would focus on taking the sugar out of the salad toppings and off the french fries.

Or you can cut it down to 200 calories by haivng a salad with romaine lettuce, carrots, cherry tomatoes, a table spoon of vinaigrette, and a glass of crystal light. When bought for the week, it's less than $2.50 for the meal and just as satisfying.

Kale salad is yummy. My favourite way to eat kale is to magasse it with avocado and sea salt. Yummmm. OK, I'll admit it I mostly like the fact that I'm massaging my food. Next I'll be giving my apple a foot rub before biting into it.I giggled at the video. So funny! Is that Coconut? (Which is basically the only cat name that I can remember) And also I like your voice!

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